Social group

In sociology, a social group is a collection of individuals who interact with one another, in an orderly fashion, based on shared expectations regarding their respective behavior. It is a collection of people whose statuses and roles are interrelated.

Human beings are inclined to cooperate, compete, analyze, produce ideas, plan, and decide in groups; groups are a vital part of the social structure. Groups are constantly forming and transforming; they need not be self-defined and are often defined from the outside.

Characteristics of a social group

Social groups have several characteristics:

  • group members interact and influence each other;
  • each member must comply with so-called norms of behavior, which characterize a particular group;
  • every member in a group plays roles;
  • all members are interdependent, i.e. they need each other to achieve the goals that the group has set for itself.

Groups are held together by what is known as cohesion, i.e. the intensity of the relationship between group members. Cohesion is determined by many factors including:

  • mutual attraction, that is, that members feel attraction to one another;
  • identification, in that a member identifies with the group.

The perception of belonging

According to the Theories of Social Perception related to the topic of Social cognition, there are various motivations by which one perceives one’s belonging to a group:

  • By proximity. Often we start to hang out with people who are close to us physically, for example those who live in the same neighborhood, attend the same bar, the same school etc.. They all represent opportunities to make acquaintances or share experiences. Proximity often represents the first reason for choosing to belong to a spontaneous group. On the basis of this criterion, in fact, groups are often formed for sharing free time.
  • By similarity. This is a criterion of belonging related to the disposition of some people to look for their beliefs, ideas and needs in others. It does not mean physical similarity in this case, but similarity in thought, interest and lifestyle. The gratification of finding other people with similar ideas is what leads, more than any other element, to union. Within a larger group it seems natural to form subgroups, through the criterion of similarity, in fact, alliances are established and sympathies arise that generally last over time.
  • By identification. One can belong to a group even when there is no similarity in ideas or needs, but with a mostly unconscious motivation of identification with the other. The difference with similarity is in the psychological mechanism that comes into play and determines the choice. Many individuals aspire to belong to groups that have a specific identity and represent a socially desirable status. Joining a group, therefore, may represent for some people achievement, success and prestige. Identification also means the process of structuring one’s personality and social identity through interdependence with the group, as subjective and intersubjective factors intervene, that is, learned through contact with the group. In fact, attitudes and modes of communication influence each other.

The processes of intergroup interaction (i.e. relationship and confrontation between groups, and not only in the group) are a very complex topic, of great theoretical-applicative relevance in the study of social conflicts, political sociology, problems related to racism and migration processes. The most comprehensive theory of intergroup relations is currently the Theory of Social Identity.

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